A Meet & Greet with the Deadwood Studios Casting Director

This is an open call for all prospective clients looking to engage in the exciting roles available at Deadwood Studios! Come and meet some of the casting personnel. Potential applicants are welcome to attend, and headshots are permitted for distribution. However, we please ask that you leave any six-shooters, pickaxes, lassos, and horses at the door. Light refreshments and snacks will be served. So come on down, partner!


As part of our September Spotlight on Deadwood Studios, USA by Cheapass Games, we strive to inform the readers of little extra tidbits surrounding the game. And Cheapass has lots of little extra tidbits. It helps to highlight what the game is about, where it came from, or possibly where it’s going. Games are made by people, and one of those tidbits we enjoy is learning a little bit more about the people behind them. In the case of Deadwood, today we have that in the form of designer and publisher, James Ernest. When he’s not cooking fish or blowing up cows, there’s a chance he’s hangout on the backlot of the best C-rated western studio you can find. Here’s a little bit of insight into the person behind several Origins award-winning games.

Round One Questions

What was your Gateway Game?

I grew up playing games. My family played pitch, poker, Yahtzee, Monopoly, chess, Scrabble, etc. I also invented games as a kid, mostly because I did a lot of cross-country driving. Er, passengering.

I learned about D&D in grade school, and my friends also introduced me to a homebrewed tabletop minis game based on Chainmail. That was my first indication that there was such a thing as “hobby games.”

I started working in the game business around the time Magic: the Gathering came out. Some of my friends worked at Wizards of the Coast, and for a while I did too.


What was the last game you really enjoyed playing (besides Deadwood Studios)?

Well, yesterday I played a couple games of Veritas, which is always good. If you mean “besides my own games”, I’m trying to remember. I’m usually working on my own stuff, so I don’t get the chance to play a lot of other games, especially over the summer. I did play a new Euro game recently, but it was pretty horrible.


How big is your game collection?

Big, but in a dumb way. I’m not a collector, as most designers appear to be. I’m more of an accumulator. People give me games (or trade them to me), so I have a very random assortment of stuff. And I keep meaning to take a look at these things, but often they stay in the shrink wrap for years.


What is your favorite type of game to play?

I like most types of tabletop games, though I prefer simple themed games where the rules make sense. Also, I’m always dissecting new games, so I’m no fun to play with. I’m the one saying, “Why is this rule here?”, or, “If this component is called ‘money’, why doesn’t it work like money?”


How do you feel about Monopoly?

Great product, terrible game. I could write volumes about it, but it’s all been said before. It’s a compelling theme, reasonably accessible, and it makes a good family activity. Everyone plays it wrong, and as a friend’s niece said last Christmas, “You don’t finish Monopoly, you just play it.”


Deadwood Studios


On Deadwood Studios, USA

What was the original idea behind the theme to Deadwood Studios?

Exactly as it remains: actors working on a cowboy movie backlot. Strangely, the cards for the game were originally supposed to be business cards. That lasted all of about ten seconds, but the card size was good for three big dice, and so they are still that size and shape today.


Deadwood Studios is technically a 2nd edition of an older version of Deadwood. What was it about this project that made you want to overhaul and update it for a new release?

Most of my older games need some kind of tune-up. Back in 1999 I was more willing to give people really volatile games and say, “your results will balance out over multiple games”. That’s fine for games that last under a minute, but not so good for games that last an hour.

I first chose Deadwood for an overhaul in 2011 because I thought it didn’t need much work. After playing it, I realized I was wrong. I’d designed a hundred games in the meantime and learned a thing or two. But I do like the core mechanic and the story, so it was worth the extra effort.


You did a lot of extensive playtesting for the update. What were some of the most common things you heard when trying it out with play groups?

Playtest feedback is enigmatic. I was much pickier about the specifics of the game than the testers were. There was not one rule or thing that players pointed out, but I could tell that they weren’t having fun by their attitude. When people offer feedback about picky details, it means they are not having fun. When they suggest possible expansion rules, it means they like the game. Sometimes that’s a fine line.


Besides the promo videos, have you ever done any acting in your past – even badly?

huzzahI’m a stage performer so I’m familiar with that piece, though I have never been a professional actor. I know some people who are. But I wasn’t really trying to be realistic about the details. I’ve read comments that it’s ludicrous that actors in Deadwood have to walk all the way to a stage to find out what’s shooting there – that it should be posted at the Trailers. Yeah. Okay. It’s a board game.

When it comes to my background, Huzzah! is a lot closer than Deadwood. I’ve worked a lot of renaissance fairs. But that game, needs, shall we say, more work.


We read on the Kickstarter that, like the original Deadwood, there is intent for expansions with more scenes and content. Is that closer on the horizon, or are there other games you want to update / release before getting to that?

As with most board game products, we need to see if the demand is high enough for the core game before we attack the idea of expansions. I’m most excited about the very real possibility of doing a new limited version of Deadwood with a pirate theme…but I’ve said too much already.

Those plans will come together when we’re close to needing a reprint, since it’s economical to do those things at the same time. And if we never need the reprint, that’s a good indicator that we don’t need the expansions!


Lastly, are you a western movies fan? If so, do you have any favorites? How about a favorite bad western?

Absolutely. I love the spaghetti westerns mostly for their awfulness, but sometimes they are plain awesome. I’m a big fan of Unforgiven and the new True Grit. Can’t say I have a huge collection, but I’m definitely inspired to make a board game about them!

What’s next from Cheapass Games? Be careful, because if you blink you just may miss it. In the meantime, check out the latest masterpiece from Deadwood Studios:


Photo & Video Credits: Deadwood Studios cover and video by Cheapass Games.